Coach Amy Williams has seen more smiles from the players on the Nebraska women’s basketball team this season, and it’s easy to understand why.
With 12 regular-season games still to play, Nebraska (12-5) has already won five more games than all of last season. Nebraska also has a 3-1 record in the Big Ten Conference after going 3-13 in the Big Ten last season.
How does it feel to be winning more this season?
“I think it’s a lot of fun, and it gives our team a little bit more confidence going into every single game,” said sophomore guard Hannah Whitish.
And now the Huskers have reached the point where even when they win, they turn on the game film and see the potential to be even better.
“The success we’ve had already this season, just being able to build on that, it’s pretty fun,” Whitish said.
Nebraska takes a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against 23rd-ranked Michigan at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Winning on the road has been great, but Williams says it would be satisfying now to come home and reward the fans with a win.
“We had some good success on the road, and now we’re excited to be able to show our home-court fans that toughness that it took for us to get those three road wins,” Williams said.
Saturday’s game also offers the chance for the Huskers to take the next step and get its first win against a ranked opponent this season. The only ranked team Nebraska has played this season was No. 12 Ohio State, with Nebraska losing 73-61. Nebraska ranks 73rd in the RPI.
Williams’ first season as head coach last season was a major challenge. The Huskers had a six-game losing streak and an eight-game losing streak.
Seeing the Huskers have more success has been rewarding for Williams.
“I feel great that they have seen the hard work kind of pay off a little bit,” Williams said. “And they’ve really bought in to everything we’ve tried to do from the postseason, all offseason, a new strength and conditioning coach, who has kind of challenged them in different ways.
“I just think to watch them really buy into all of those things and really commit to it, and then really start to see that pay off, it’s rewarding for me, and it’s rewarding for them. I think I’m the most happy for the seniors who this is their last go around is to taste a little bit of more success and to see some of that leadership paying off.”
After not having a chance to prove itself against ranked teams for most of the season, the Huskers will get several chances to do so now with three straight games against ranked opponents. After Saturday, the Huskers will host No. 18 Iowa on Tuesday, then travel to No. 21 Rutgers.
“I think the one thing we know for sure is that we’re going to have some incredible opportunities here facing us,” Williams said. “Playing in the Big Ten Conference provides a great opportunity to play against very challenging competition, and we feel like the fact that our next couple of games are against ranked opponents gives us an incredible opportunity to really make some noise, and to prove to ourselves and everybody else that we’re worthy of being mentioned up there.”
Nebraska lost both games against Michigan last season and wasn’t close either time, because Michigan scored 84 and 88 points against the Huskers.
But Nebraska has already shown it can play much better defense this season.
“I think our entire team has really seen the results of when we guard, and when we rebound, that is equated in much more success for us this season,” Williams said. “I think they want to continue to do that, and I think they know that’s the key for our team and we need to hang our hat on the defensive end.”
To beat Michigan, the Huskers will have to get a handle on Michigan senior guard Katelynn Flaherty, who ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring at 22.9 points per game.
Whitish says slowing down a major scorer like Flaherty in order to win a game is one way the Huskers can take the next step as a team.
“I think that’s going to be huge for us, especially as many (big scorers) there are in the Big Ten,” she said.